Not all routes or receivers are created equally.
Congratulations! Your favorite NFL team just used a first round draft pick on a wide receiver. Obviously, this receiver is going to be catching passes for your team. However, there are certain ways that your brand new wide receiver should be utilized to maximize his ability.
Corey Coleman: Curl Routes
The former Baylor standout did a great job of not only beating opponents deep, but also finding success in the short-yardage game. According to research conducted by Matt Harmon, Coleman ran a curl route 27% of his snaps in college, which was second most among the top receivers in this class and second in Coleman’s repertoire to nine/go routes, which he ran 40% of the time.
A key reason Coleman is so successful on his curl routes is his speed forces corners to play over the top trying not to get beaten deep. He also possesses exceptional quickness, allowing him to cut on a dime. On this snap, Coleman was so quick that when he caught the ball, he had almost 10 yards of separation, just from his ability to burst off the line and stop almost instantly because the defender is so concerned with getting beat deep.
Josh Doctson: Fade Routes
Doctson was an absolute beast in the red zone for TCU last year, particularly on fade patterns. In the small part of the field, long speed doesn’t nearly have the same impact that it does at midfield, since the offense only has 30 yards (20 on the field plus 10 in the end zone) with which to work.
However, body control and size are very important factors, as passes aren’t in the air as long, and size allows for bigger targets for the quarterback. Both are areas which Doctson excels. In fade routes in particular, the passer is lobbing the ball up in the air with the expectation the receiver will gain separation to make the play.
On this snap, Doctson naturally adjusted to the pass by launching his 6’2” frame and 41-inch vertical over the defender to grab the back shoulder pass, then had the awareness and athleticism to land in-bounds to complete the touchdown.
Laquon Treadwell: Slant & Post Routes
Per Harmon’s research, 20.9% of Treadwell’s total routes were slant routes, second most in his arsenal, and his success rate on slant routes was 84.1%, also second best. Watching the tape, it’s easy to see why the former Ole Miss star is so good on slants. Slants are often very tough to defend because of how quickly they develop and how, at the catch point, the receiver is usually directly in front of the defender, making it harder to get a hand on the pass. Subsequently, two of Treadwell’s best traits are his size and quickness for size.
At 6’4” Treadwell is naturally bigger and taller than defensive backs. He also has the quickness to make good cuts towards the middle of the field. It also helps that Treadwell is physical and has good long-speed to fight for extra yardage.
On this snap, Treadwell took a quick, hard step to the inside on the initial break and then, at the catch point, properly used his big frame to hold onto the ball despite two defenders converging on him.
Sterling Shepard: In & Out Routes
A case could be made that Shepard was the best overall route runner in the 2016 draft class and could run any route with precision. However, the former Sooner looks his best on in/dig routes and out routes.
On the clip below, in which he ran an out route, Shepard not only demonstrated exceptional burst off the line, but also showed a savvy fake inside before cutting outside, then once he caught the pass, accelerated up field for more yardage.
By contrast, the next clip shows Shepard showing the same burst off the line, only this time he fakes outside before going inside, and once he breaks inside, he has the awareness to vary his running speed to find the vacancy in the coverage, giving the quarterback a good throwing window. His ability to fake out defenders before running in another direction is a big reason both his in and out routes are so effective.
Will Fuller: Streak & Nine Routes
The ability to beat defenders deep, simply by using pure speed, is perhaps the most coveted trait teams look for in receivers. Twenty-three percent of the 192 routes Fuller ran in his final season at Notre Dame were streak or nine patterns. Additionally, Fuller was one of just 21 receivers in college football to post double-digit receptions of 20 yards or more.
His 4.32 40-yard dash time, the best among the 2016 wide receiver combine participants, is evident of elite acceleration, the most important tool to beat defensive backs down the field.
On the snap below, Fuller got a clean release and cruised by the corner. When the defensive back realized he had been beaten, he attempted to close the gap, but Fuller was so fast, even at half speed, he had a ton of separation. Finally, when Fuller caught the ball, he turned on the jets and ran past the safety for the score.
It should be noted that just because the receivers highlighted were paired with certain route combinations, it does not suggest said receiver should exclusively run one or two types of routes. However, the best coaches find ways to get the best out of their players, and using the mentioned receivers in the highlighted means should yield the best results for both team and player.
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